The two Johns in JOHN— drummer and lead vocalist John Newton and guitarist John Healy— met while studying at London Metropolitan University in the U.K. After they graduated, they decided to collaborate musically and see what happened.
“We spent about a year rehearsing behind closed doors, before playing our first show in 2014,” Newton says. “There’s a reality to the time-based commitments of being in a band. Juggling finance, relationships, and mental health is all part of the parcel. We’ve both become very open as people in order to make sure we can support each other as best we can whilst on the road. We both have fantastic partners who are incredibly supportive of us.”
Brace Yourself/Pets Care Records released the duo’s third album, Nocturnal Manoeuvres, on October 8. Like their previous efforts, the songs on the album are a bracing blend of rhythm and noise, with Healy’s imaginative hooks and feedback-drenched chords complimenting Newton’s intricate rhythms and compelling vocals. The poetic lyrics Newton writes describe the difficulties modern life creates in relationships. He also touches on aspects of the world’s ongoing political crises.
“To be honest, pretty much everything has a political edge to it,” Newton says. “Going to the shop to buy bread has political implications, but we’re not interested in making direct, hard-edged, political statements through music or art. I’m more interested in laying out something with multiplicity, for people to interpret, explore, and hopefully get excited about.
“That said, it certainly doesn’t mean that our songs don’t reference social or political experiences. Throughout the writing of the album, we were often talking about the laborious demands of contemporary life—how work and capital has invaded almost every element of the day and night. Even sleep has become a precious commodity. Nocturnal Manoeuvres suggests the unseen activities that many undertake, whilst masked by darkness.”
“We’ve always considered our albums as documents of a time, and Nocturnal Manoeuvres is no different,” Newton continues. “We had three songs written prior to the world shutting down in 2020. We picked up writing again as soon as we could, following the cancellation of our live plans. It’s certainly not a direct comment on the dilemmas of a worldwide pandemic, but it does consider some of the introspection attached to the changes of daily routines. This is always something that I wanted our music to unpick—shining a light on traditions that are often left unquestioned, because they’re so mundane.”
The British press often says JOHN is part of the rebirth of the punk ethos, citing songs that are mostly two-minute bursts of intense energy, harking back to punk’s early days. It’s not a characterization Newton agrees with.
“Of course, there are formal similarities to bands past and present—no one lives in a vacuum,” he explains. “We’d rather see people writing about the ideas and feelings that run through our records. It’s perpetually surprising how much press jumps for the easy ‘For Fans Of’ approach, without reaching for any idiosyncratic depth whatsoever.”
Watch the video for “Stadium of No” here:
Photo courtesy of JOHN and Paul Grace